TAMPA, Fla. -- Early in his football journey, Akeem Spence had little interest in contact.
Safe to say he has changed.
The 6-foot-1, 307-pounder is expected to take on a larger role on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' defensive line, now that veteran tackle Clinton McDonald is on injured reserve. Spence, 23, has two tackles in two games this season after returning from a back injury. He has 70 tackles and four sacks with Tampa Bay since entering the NFL as a fourth-round pick in 2013.
Spence, who was born in Jamaica but raised in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, shared his inspirations and discoveries as part of our weekly Q&A with a member of the Bucs:
When did you know you wanted to play football?
Spence: I first wanted to play football in the fourth grade. One of my best friends invited me out. I had never played the game before, mind you, because I'm from Jamaica. So I just went out there watching. I'm like, "OK, guys running around, hitting one another." I wasn't really big on the hitting thing. I went out there and had fun with it and then just loved the game. And every year when I was little, I wanted to play.
When did you know football could become a profession?
Spence: When I got to high school, just playing it, and then I started getting college coaches coming to talk to me. I'm like, "So I can go to school for free and play this game?" And I was like, "OK, I'm pretty good at it so why not?" So I just took advantage of that and took off with it.
Who's your biggest inspiration in the game?
Spence: I've always been a Tampa fan, so I always used to watch [No.] 99 [Warren Sapp]. That's all I knew, because everybody said he was 6-foot-1, [and] we had all the same measurables. But I still don't think so. But I just used to love the way they played defense. I loved the way they played defense. I loved to watch 99. That was my biggest inspiration.
What has been your biggest challenge in the sport?
Spence: It's just that you're going to deal with a lot of adversity on and off the field. You're going to deal with injuries. You're going to deal with family problems. You're going to deal with a lot. But you've got to be able to push that to the side and work through injuries and still be able to focus on this game, because this is the greatest game in America. So to be able to play it and be one of the elite few to play it -- that's just big. I'm just living my dream.
What's the best advice you've received about being an NFL player?
Spence: You've got to be able to have a short memory. You want to harp on things. You want to do things great all the time, every play. You want every play to be a great play. Every play is not going to be a great play. So you've got to have a short memory -- next-play mentality. I think it was my college coach [at Illinois], Coach Ron Zook, who told me that, because I used to harp on everything in college. I wanted to be perfect. I wanted to make every play. But you're not going to make every play. I had to figure that out, because coming into college, you make all these plays. Then you come to college, and you've got to do assignments and this and that. I found it kind of strange. But then you just can't harp on it the next play.